Christmas books go out from the library at any of time of the year (well at least they do in Tākaka), but obviously Christmas time is the best time for diving into these festive reads. Linda Jane Keegan reviews the newest Christmas books out this season. Two even have accompanying songs and you don’t even have to worry about losing pesky CDs!
Blue, Blue Christmas, by Anna Coddington & Story Hemi-Morehouse (Penguin Random House NZ)
Finally we can dream of a blue instead of a white Christmas with Anna Coddington’s words which are not only immortalised in print but also in song! A very Kiwi story where the child narrator is wondering if Santa realises that it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, and whether he will be over-dressed for present-delivery on Aotearoa’s shores.
The first half of the book goes through the child’s worries about Santa’s UV-ray preparedness and in the second half Santa has joined their family for the classic Kiwi summer of sand castles, beach cricket, swimming and surfing. Story Hemi-Morehouse’s illustrations are in idyllic summer hues—lots of blue, blue skies, pōhutukawa in flower, sun and surf. It’s light and bright, and I love the style of the round-cheeked characters. My seven-year-old loved looking out for the baby appearing on most spreads, and particularly loved seeing them riding on the reindeer.
Coddington is an esteemed musician and this is clear in the lyrical way the story is told. The rhyme scheme has a pleasant camber with in-line rhyme complementing end-of-line rhymes. There are a few places where, when reading, the scansion is off, but works in the timing as a song. I wasn’t particularly keen on Santa calling out “Be good, suckers!” as he departed at the end—presumably to rhyme with ‘shaka’, a surfer wave—but I can see how that lends itself to the casual Kiwi way.
Overall I think this is a lovely addition to the summer Christmas book canon and, better still, is also available in te reo Māori, He Kirihimete Kahurangi, translated by Ruth Smith. You can play the song in both English and Māori here. (No CD to lose basically immediately! Hooray!)
Blue, Blue Christmas
By Anna Coddington & Story Hemi-Morehouse
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
He Kirihimete Kahurangi
Nā Anna Coddington & Story Hemi-Morehouse
Nā Ruth Smith i whakamāori
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
My Bum is So Christmassy!, by Dawn McMillan & Ross Kinnaird (Oratia)
I have a confession to make: I liked this book. I know, I know; you’re thinking, Linda Jane is normally so boring with her lack of humour and distaste for farts and bums. Or maybe, who is this Linda Jane imposter thinking she can get away with tarring her holier-than-thou attitude to rear ends and gaseous emissions? Well, I’ll have you know I am far from tarred, and I enjoyed this latest addition to the bum canon. Yes, I said bum canon. Who said I couldn’t get into a little Christm-ass spirit?
Ahem. So our returning Bum Master (let’s call him BM for short) is gearing up for Christmas and realises that he’s lacking festive wear for his gluteus maximus. He goes through a few options before realising that maybe Christmas isn’t just about him and his decorated derrière, and that he should bring his mature self to the dinner table. I’m not going to soil the ending, so you’ll just have to get the book to get to the bottom of it yourself.
The rhymes are fun to read and brought to life on the page with text in different sizes, typefaces and colours. And the illustrations and cover are in Ross Kinnaird’s classic style that matches the rest of the series. The different bum ornament options are comical, and my kid liked to point out every time you could see BM’s butt crack. And I quote, “Hahahaha, butt crack!”
My bum will look jolly
wearing some holly,
but… what if I have to sit?
There’ll be eeking and shrieking,
squawking and squeaking…
No, my bum won’t like it a bit!
There are a couple of spreads where the rhyme scheme felt like it didn’t fit the pattern and I was left wondering where or when I should place stress on certain words. But overall it was a fun read-aloud and I’m sure will be well-liked by both fans and sceptics of the previous books.
My Bum is So Christmassy!
By Dawn McMillan & Ross Kinnaird
Published by Oratia
The Gnomes’ Very Berry Christmas, by Sarina Dickson & Minrui Yang (Little Moa)
This is such a cute-looking book! I was immediately taken with Minrui Yang’s illustrations—the expressive faces of all the little gnomes and the warm glow that seems to be cast over the whole book. With berries being the focus, it has a New Zealand Christmas flavour—in the text as well as the pictures—without being explicitly about summer.
Then one recent Christmas,
it rained cats and dogs!
So we gave up the gardens
and put on our togs.
Most of the verse reads smoothly but there are a few places where the number of syllables don’t fit into the rhythm. The narrative goes through what a Gnome Christmas entails—mostly gardening because they love it!—and the gnomes’ preparations for the upcoming annual strawberry competition. Busy gnomes are buzzing around creating plans and contraptions but some are struggling. While Gnome Santa keeps an eye on things, the question arises as to whether the gnomes should share their good ideas with their neighbours. The author brings a lovely message of Christmas spirit and helping others without being an overly moralistic tale, bringing the book to a pleasing and festive conclusion.
Then we finish with feasting
and singing and cheer,
Merry Christmas to all
and a fruitful new year!
The Gnomes’ Very Berry Christmas
By Sarina Dickson & Minrui Yang
Published by Little Moa
Santa’s Fireproof Knickers, by Deano Yipadee & Carla Martell (Scholastic NZ)
The fourth and final Christmas rhymer this year also comes with a song! Like Blue, Blue Christmas, the rhyme doesn’t always work as well in reading as it does in the rhythm of the song but it’s a fun, silly story where Santa is stuck having to wear novelty knickers after his regular trousers have shrunk in the wash.
To be honest, I’m not totally sold on the premise—that’s it’s unbecoming for a man to wear frilly undies with hearts on them—but without that we wouldn’t have Santa’s board shorts catching fire and his burnt bottom, which are sure to bring laughs to children. My kiddo certainly found it funny, and bums catching fire is a gag that won’t stop being funny, since said kiddo also guffawed at the postman in the movie Klaus running into the same problem.
But flying further north,
when the weather got much colder,
Santa climbed down a chimney…
and felt the ashes smolder.
Carla Martell’s illustrations are bright and funny; I especially loved when Santa goes behind a very skinny tree to change into the frilly knickers and totally disappears, despite being many times wider than the tree itself. Bold, clean lines complement the textures of the backgrounds, and Santa’s expressions are well-captured with minimal lines—a very underrated skill! I loved the touch of the endpapers front and back being the pattern of Santa’s surf shorts and the heart-speckled knickers respectively.
Overall this book is not to my personal tastes but it’s wonderfully illustrated and will have kids laughing, and because you can download or stream the accompanying song you won’t have a lost CD getting scratched and lost around your house!
Santa’s Fireproof Knickers
By Deano Yipadee & Carla Martell
Published by Scholastic NZ
Looking for more Christmas books? Check out last year’s titles!
Linda Jane is the lead editor of The Sapling, a parent, and a writer of picture books, poetry, and other tidbits. Her background is varied, including work in ecology, environmental education, summer camps, and a community newspaper. She is Singaporean-Pākehā, queer, and loves leaping into cold bodies of water.